Fact checking Michael Sherlock's painful facts


(RiderOnTheClouds) #1

This is a response to two pieces of Anti-Christian and Anti-Judaic polemic published by Michael Sherlock. Without further ado:

Judaism: 12 painful facts

Fact 1: The Torah (“Five Books of Moses”), the very pillar of Judaism, wasn’t written by Moses, but by numerous anonymous authors who contradicted one another with regards to theology and history. [1]

Fact 2: The bulk of the Book of Genesis wasn’t written in the second millennium BCE, as both Jewish and Christian traditions assert, but in the Exilic or Post-Exilic Period (6th Century BCE ~ during or after the Jewish exile in Babylon). [2]

True enough (according to the majority of Biblical scholars), but pay close attention to the second “Fact” he points out, let’s see if he remains consistent with holding to it when it doesn’t suit his narrative.

Fact 3: The Book of Genesis contains numerous plagiarized (adopted) myths, all of which find their origins in the more ancient empires of Mesopotamia – The Creation, The Garden of Eden, The Fall of Man, The 12 Patriarchs prior to the flood who all lived extremely long lives, The Flood, the shortening of lifespans after the flood, The Tower of Babel and even Abraham and Sarah’s descent into Egypt (See Descent of Ishtar and Tammuz). This relates to Fact 2, as the Jews were in exile in the very place (Babylon/Chaldea) from which many of these myths in Genesis find their, well, genesis. [3]

Did you catch that? He includes the story of the Tower of Babel alongside his list. Presumably he is referring to the Story of Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, a story which was not transmitted after the mid 1st century BC, so couldn’t have been picked up by Exillic Jews. Even if it was ‘adopted’ (plagiarism is a highly unscholarly word) from the Sumerian myth, this would contradict his second point!

As to the core premise of this “fact”, it relies on 19th century Primitive understanding of Ancient Near Eastern literature, in the era when it first started to be excavated. Most of his sources date to this era, bcause these are the only sources which support his agenda. As for the few sources from contemporary eras, I am skeptical as to how many of them are alleging plagiarism as opposed to ‘parallelism’. A ‘contemporary’ Assyriologist and Biblical Scholar, Mark W. Chavalas has this to day regarding the views of ‘Panbabylonism’s’ most prominent 19th century advocate Friedrich Delitzch:(one of Sherlock’s sources)

Most scholars, however, did not argue with his thesis directly. Delitzsch did show that the Babylonians had reached a high level of ethical and spiritual thought. Although many of his arguments can easily be refuted today (e.g. the Babylonian connections with the Hebrew Sabbath), they could not be so at the turn of the century because of an imprecise knowledge of Akkadian.

There you have it, Sherlock’s ideas are based on a primitive, 19th century knowledge of Akkadian.

Fact 4: The Exodus probably didn’t happen, as there is no archaeological evidence for the 1.2 million people who were alleged to have left Egypt and camped at Mt. Sinai – no Egyptian records, nor any form of historical or archaeological evidence where there should be (archaeological argument from silence), given the circumstances and presence of records prior to and during this alleged event. Also, at the time in which the exodus was alleged to have taken place, Egypt’s entire population was around 3 million, so an exodus of 1.2 million of its free labour force would have crushed Egypt economically, but Egypt continued to reign well after this alleged event. [4]

Again, a stopped clock is right twice a day. This is the opinion of most scholars.

Fact 5: The Story of Moses being placed in a basket of reeds covered with bitumen was a direct plagiarism (adoption) of the earlier Mesopotamian ruler’s escape from infanticide narrative, Sargon of Babylonia, who was also said to have been placed in a basket of reeds covered with bitumen, plucked from the water, and whom, Akkadian legend holds, went on to become the great law giver of the more ancient Akkadians. [5]

According to Michael Heiser, a Semitic Scholar infinitely more qualified in this area than Michael Sherlock ever will be:

“Note this comment from Pritchard’s Ancient Near Eastern Texts Anthology[12].‘The legend concerning the birth of Sargon of Agade is available in two incomplete Neo-Assyrian copies (A and B) and in a Neo-Babylonian fragment ©.’
The Neo-Assyrian period covers the 8th and part of the 7th centuries BC. The Neo-Babylonian period is later, encompassing the 7th and 6th centuries BC. This would mean that, even by higher critical standards, who would have the Moses birth account as written by J or E (or an amalgam of JE), the biblical story is EARLIER, at least with respect to the literary evidence that actually exists. J and E are dated to the 10th and 9th centuries BC, respectively, by most source critics.”

So the story of Moses CANNOT be plagiarised from that of Sargon.

Fact 6: The popular Ten Commandments can be accounted for, almost in their entirely, in the earlier Egyptian ‘Negative Confessions’, located in the ancient Egyptian ‘Book of the Dead’, and many other “Jewish” teachings, including the ‘lex talionis’ (Eye for an eye) were also present in the earlier Babylonian Code of Hammurabi. [6]

I don’t even know why the former point matters. God did not have to give a ‘new’ system of morality, so much as a ‘good’ system of morality. As for the second point, given the Semitic origins of the Israelites (According to Genesis the Patriarchs even originated in Mesopotamia), it can only be expected that their law has parallels with Babylonian law. As John Walton states, the Bible was written for us, but not too us.

Fact 7: Much the so-called ‘Wisdom Literature’ in the Hebrew Bible (Particularly Proverbs), dishonestly represented as direct revelations of the wisdom of the tribal deity of the Israelites, contains sayings and proverbs that were directly taken (in some cases word for word) from earlier Egyptian and Mesopotamian literature. [7]

Fact 8: The birth of the Israel (Joshua’s alleged conquest) has been shown to have been an outright fiction, along with the exaggerated size of the so-called “Kingdom” of David, who may have been, along with Moses and Abraham, a fictional character. [8]

Fact 9: Both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds (collection of rabbinical discourses that interpret the Torah) are laced with harmful racism, xenophobia, and silly superstitious stories that are almost certainly false. [9]

Whilst mostly true, David most likely did exist, according to the Mesha stela, though was likely a minor ruler mythologised over the years.

Fact 10: The religion of Judaism was originally a polytheistic religion and although apologists have tried to argue that the pluralistic epithet ‘Elohim’ (gods) is merely a pluralis Majestatis (majestic we), there are places in the Hebrew Bible that contradict this notion, and this epithet is also applied to the gods of other nations. Judaism only became monotheistic at a relatively late point in history, and it wasn’t the first monotheistic religion. Long before it developed into a monotheistic religion, the ancient Egyptian religion of ‘Atonism’ (worship of the god Aton) existed as a strict monotheistic religion. [10]

Once again, this idea is destroyed by the Biblical scholarship of Michael Heiser, who argues that the Bible never truly denies the existence of other deities. All Sherlock is truly pointing out is that the Bible mentions other deities, not necessarily that it is false. As for the notion that the title ‘Elohim’ is of polytheistic origin, this is not necessarily true, for as Michael Heiser points out here, this was common practise in the ANE, with the Assyrian pluralistic title ‘Ilanu’ being given to single gods in the El-Amarna letters:

http://www.sitchiniswrong.com/Elohim/Elohim.htm

Fact 11: The practice of circumcision originated in ancient Egypt. The ancient historian Herodotus informs us that the people of Israel and Palestine adopted this custom from the ancient Egyptians. Also, the practice of circumcision and particularly, the ultra-orthodox practice of ‘metzitzah b’peh,’ (the sucking off of the baby’s partially severed foreskin by an old rabbi) has been responsible for killing numerous infants in recent years, by infecting the infants with herpes. [11]

Perhaps true, although again, the Bible was written for us, not to us, God would have had to have created a covenant with the Israelite’s in terms they would understand.

Fact 12: The Hebrew Bible promotes slavery, genocide, human sacrifice, infanticide, rape, misogyny, murder, the theft of land and property, among other crimes. In the words of Robert G. Ingersoll: “If a man would follow, today, the teachings of the Old Testament, he would be a criminal. If he would follow strictly the teachings of the New, he would be insane.” In other words, the Hebrew Bible is the ancient moral equivalent of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. [12]

Rather than saying what he wants to be true, he should research what is actually true. The Bible never demands Human sacrifice, it actually explicitly forbids it:

Deuteronomy 12:31: You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.

Deuteronomy 18:9-12: When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fireAnyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.

Did you catch that? Not only does God abhore human sacrifice, but it was the basis for God ordering the Canaanites to be driven out. The story of Abraham is purely about God testing Abraham’s faith by seeing if he would do an evil deed if God told him to. The story implicitly acknowledges that human sacrifice is a great evil.

The Bible never allows infanticide either, this is a common atheist myth based on a quote mining of Psalm 137, taking it’s last verse out of historical context, where the Babylonians had invaded Judah and committed mass infanticide themselves. Surely in that context it would be understandable for the Psalmist to show such attitude towards the Babylonians, and one cannot claim that it is a commandment.

Now I am in no way claiming that Mosaic law is good, but New Atheists often overlook that Jesus explicitly set it aside:

For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) Mark 7:19

So according to the New Testament, the mosaic law is no longer binding.

Next we shall respond to another article of his:

Christianity: 12 Painful Facts

Fact 1: The earliest official gospel (Mark) was written over a generation (40 years) after the alleged death of Jesus and subsequently, it fails the historical test of contemporaneity. (1)

So do our only texts regarding figures such as Alexander the Great, which were written long after his death. As Bart Ehrman points out, in his ‘Did Jesus Exist?’ book, the Gospel writers appeared to be sourcing from pre-existent Oral Traditions, which with rare examples, tend to be recalling true events.

Fact 2: 612 of the 662 verses in the Gospel of Mark can all be found in Matthew, and in largely the same order, thereby demonstrating that the anonymous author of “Matthew” copied heavily from the Gospel of Mark. (2)

Fact 3: The gospels were written by anonymous authors and later falsely attributed to authors who did not write them, nor were these anonymous authors eyewitnesses, with two of gospels, John (See John 21:24) and Luke, (See Luke 1:1-4) specifically stating that they were not eyewitnesses to Jesus. (3)

Fact 4: The gospels contain numerous forgeries, contradictions and errors. (4)

Fact 5: The four gospels were not selected as orthodox Scripture until 180 CE (approx.) (5)

Mostly true.

Fact 6: There are no first century witnesses outside of the corrupt and biased gospels that attest to the earthly existence of Jesus Christ, but for a forged passage in the work of the Jewish Historian, Josephus (Testimonium Flavianum), and a second reference in that same compromised work, which is also suspect and in no way represents a specific reference to the Jesus of the gospels. (6)

This is NOT a painful ‘fact’, it should go without saying. Sherlock is merely repeating hearsay, not actual scholarship. The general consensus is that at least some of the Testimonium Flavianum is authentic, and virtually all scholars accept the authenticity of the second reference.

Fact 7: Almost all of the myths and moral philosophies attributed to Jesus can be found in earlier mythologies and philosophies, held by people that were proximate to the lands in which the gospels first arose. (7)

His source is a 19th century (so likely outdated) English Atheist Activist Joseph McCabe. The truth is that 1st century Jews wouldn’t visit theatres, or grow long hair, since both were considered pagan. The notion that they would steal their ideas from elsewhere is quite simply absurd.

Fact 8: Most of the earliest Christians believed that Jesus was either a phantom (non-human apparition), or a completely human Jewish rabbi. (8)

But all of them identified Jesus as an actual being who appeared on earth, not what you would expect if there was any doubt that Jesus didn’t exist on earth.

Fact 9: Christianity only rose to power due to its blatant disregard for its own Scripture – meaning, it aligned itself with a psychotic “pagan” emperor, Constantine, who boiled his wife in a hot tub, murdered his own son and executed his co-emperor, and he merely used Christianity to solidify his political ambitions (sole emperorship), evidenced by the fact that he continued to practice his pagan faith and mint his coins with Mithras (pagan sun-god), long after his alleged conversion. (9)

Actually the evidence suggests that he syncretised worship of Sol Invictus (not Mithras, who was actually clearly disntinguished from the sun god in art) with that of Christ.

Fact 10: The sect of Christians that aligned themselves with Constantine became known as the Catholic (Universal) Church and their chief historian, Eusebius, re-wrote Christian history to present a false picture that favored his sect and made it look as if his group’s theology, found in the four official gospels, was always the dominant and original form, when such was not the case. (10)

A blatant misrepresentation of the scholarship of Bart Ehrman, which he cites.This truly has more in common with the works of Dan Brown. Tim O’Neill, here explains how we actually got the Biblical canon.

Fact 11: For the majority of its history (4th Century ~ 19th Century), Christianity has been a violent religion, which, like a deadly virus, has taken over its hosts and killed in order to spread. (11)

One of the books he cites is The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, a work of Anti-Christian polemic which originated the false myth that Christians deliberately destroyed the Great Library of Alexandria and killed Hypatia for being a scientist. Neither is true.

Fact 12: When Christianity had temporal authority, it was just as brutal as Islam. The only reason we see more psychotic behavior from religious nuts in Islamic countries today, versus Western countries, is because the West has become increasingly secularized. (12)

Sherlock ignores two main facts:

  1. The role of Biblical Ethics in inspiring the views of early Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke.
  2. The role of conservative scholars such as Al Ghazali and Ibn Taymiyyah, as well as the Mongol sack of Baghdad in ending the Islamic Golden Age and bringing forth the rise in Islamic fundamentalism. So no, it is not just because Christian Europe has secularised.

Even more dubious are the sources which Sherlock uses, including, for obvious reasons, The End of Faith by Non-Historian Sam Harris, who has made numerous blunders in history, such as claiming that the Catholic Church supported Nazism (he latter admitted this was wrong) and that Islam only had a Golden Age because Christianity had destroyed the works of scientists (it didn’t).

Another article on Islam which Sherlock made is also full of historical blunders, including arguments which originated (ironically enough) with Christian fundamentalists. But since this forum is Christianity oriented (and I myself am no fan of Islam), I’ll leave this one out.


(Juan Romero) #2

Well, someone finally takes down Sherlock’s “painful facts”.

Let me make just a small correction:

We actually have contemporary evidence of Alexander the Great. Ever heard of Chares of Mytilene?

The thing is, using mythicist reasoning, he was “biased towards Alexander the Great”, so his testimony is worthless.

I know that you are interested in bad history, you might be interested in this (I think it is from a New Ager):

It is in Portuguese, but Google Translate always comes in handy. I am planning to make a point by point rebuttal on a YouTube video, but you may be interested in taking a look at it by yourself.